After back to back state championships by West Chester Henderson, the core of those title victories has moved on to the college ranks. With only one varsity runner from last season’s state title win returning, the door may be open for a new champion to rise.
The two teams that came up short against Henderson in 2012 and 2013 will look to make another run for the title. North Allegheny was the most impressive team in the state at times last season. They’re big performances at Red, White and Blue and PIAA Foundation had made them the top contenders to challenge the champions. They had the best pack running squad in the state, running spreads in the 15 to 30 second range in some races. Three runners may have graduated from that team, but the four returners along with the squad depth will make them strong favorites for the championship. Red White and Blue will be the debut race for the District 7 champions.
The 2012 runners up Cardinal O’Hara will give a run for the state title another shot. The Lions have finished in the top three at states in each of the last four seasons and looked primed to extend that streak to five. Kevin James will lead the squad once again as a state title contender. The senior has been one of the top runners in the state for the past two seasons and is looking to have a big final season. Three more runners from last year’s 3rd place team return, followed by impressive squad depth that will be ready for the big stage. A trip to North Carolina for The Great American Cross Country Festival will be a good indicator of their title credentials.
With Henderson’s mass exodus of seniors, District 1 teams will now look to make a new for themselves on the big stage in Hershey.
Council Rock North may have graduated AAA 3200 meter state champion and record holder Ross Wilson, but he leaves behind a solid squad that will have five returning varsity runners that finished 5th at states. Conestoga has made a big surge up to the top of the district with a legit number 1 star runner in Andrew Marsten. Conestoga will have six seniors in their varsity seven and will be a contender for district and state gold. Pennsbury will have the leadership of Sam Webb and Alek Sauer, two sub 16 minute performers from last season’s team that finished 10th at states. Having four more varsity runners returning in 2014, the Falcons will be favorites to make another trip to Hershey. Central Bucks West may be the closest mirror image to North Allegheny this season, with a varsity seven that can potentially put together the best pack that can rival North Allegheny's.
But the wild card in District 1 belongs to Downingtown West and their two sophomore leaders Ryan Barton and Drew Alansky. The duo impressed last season and with one season under their belt along with a returning top seven, they could jump right into the title picture. How will the group handle expectations that they didn’t have last season?
Away from District 1, Carlisle will have Zach Brehm leading their charges this season. The 6th place team will have some holes to fill, as four members of that team move on. Brehm’s contention for state gold will help the team’s chase for the medal stand. District rivals Red Land narrowly missed the state meet last season, but will have six seniors backing up top runner Zach Sieger to break into state contention. Altoona came up short against State College last season, but they return a solid core from that team, including Dominic Stroh and Brad Foust.
2014 is shaping up to be Pennsbury vs Unionville III. Each team has one victory over the other in state competition, and both teams are 2013 NXN Finalists. Both teams graduate their top finisher from last year’s state meet, and both teams will be favored this season to win the title.
Unionville enter the season as the champions after chasing and catching Pennsbury last season. Plenty of talent returns this season, led by Olivia Young, Kacie Breeding, and Gretchen Mills. Unionville defeated some of the best teams in the country last season, including the seven time national champions twice. But defending the championship is different than chasing the champion. Unionville’s experienced roster should help handle the pressure that comes with a title defense, but Pennsbury will be looking for payback in 2014.
2013 was the first time Pennsbury did not win the state title since finishing 2nd in 2009, the first year of five straight medal stand appearances. The squad is full of talent that have tasted the sweetness of victory and the bitterness of defeat. Olivia Sargent, Hannah Molloy, and Maddie Sauer will be the terrific trio for this season. Unionville got the best of Pennsbury in five different competitions last season, but the rematches this time around will be too close to call. The 3rd edition of this rivalry could be the best of them all!
But in this crazy sport known as cross country, there are no guarantees that these two will be top of the state once again. Plenty of teams, especially in their own district, will look to break up the duopoly at the top.
Two of the three Central Bucks schools will look to have really big seasons, while going at it against each other in the process. Central Bucks East finished in the top five at the state meet last season with a freshman leading the way. Tate Dawson stepped up last season to power the Patriots to a solid season. Following her lead, Lizzie Morris, Liz Huuki, Hannah Morris, and Jackie Kinkead have improved and made this team a strong force. Meanwhile, their neighborhood rivals CB West have been boosted by the emergence of AAA 800 meter state champion Maddie Villalba. Entering the season with a state champion leading the way can have a big impact on the team. Lindsey Gerlach will be entering the new season as the #2 runner after a strong junior campaign. How the rest of the team performs behind them will determine how much of a challenge they can be to CB East and to the top two.
Great Valley and North Penn bring back valuable experience into the new season. Great Valley has come off some incredible relay performances on the track, and the likes of Elise Claffey, Sarah Hipwell, and Anna Willig should benefit from them. Meanwhile, North Penn will look to make up for the tough end of last season that saw them miss out on state qualification. Ali Valenti will move up from #2 to #1 for her team, with Phoebe Clowser, and Mikaela Vlasic right behind her. If the postseason performances match the September ones, North Penn can make a return trip to Hershey and compete at a high level.
District 1 may be very talented, but other teams away from District 1 will look to challenge them. Cardinal O’Hara brings back a team that is coming off their best state finish in program history (6th). The likes of Grace Mancini, Olivia Arzin, and Sara Hayes cruised through the season and had a good state meet after several years of difficult performances. After some good track success, the District 12 champions will look to make the next step into the elite of the division.
Mount Lebanon will be the favorites representing Western PA. The leadership of Kelsey Potts should have a big impact on her team this season. Four juniors will lead the way for the 2013 bronze medalists. Last season’s surprise package, Seneca Valley, will look to push the District 7 champions to the limit. The 4th place finishing team brings back five of their top seven that will have three juniors and two sophomores leading the way.
Newcomers to AAA, Palmyra join the mix. Palmyra will be looking forward to the new challenge of AAA with six of their top seven returning, including Miranda Salvo, a state champion in cross country and track. If they can duplicate some of their AAA state meet performances from the track and translate it to the cross country course, they could mix it up with the other big squads.